What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of climate change?
Is it polar bears floating on icebergs?
Dramatic scenes of snow melting?
Or, is it people?
There are women in this world who are living in poverty, in danger, and in unsanitary conditions, all because of climate change. Yes, that buzzword is coming at you again. Floods, droughts, and earthquakes are ravishing communities, cities, and villages in every corner of the world. This does not just exist on your computer screen. This is reality for millions, if not billions, of people. But for women and girls, it is unimaginably harsh.
Climate change is a women’s issue, and here’s why.
America has always been reluctant to act, and it’s mostly due to our constant political othering. Othering, by definition, means “to view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.” We’ve seen it all throughout history. It was a factor in racial segregation, and we see it happening now with the current political discussion of homophobia, xenophobia, and our main focus, sexism. Othering is so imbedded in our society that it sometimes goes undetected. That is, until it’s too late.
Take the residents of Nwadjahane, a village in Mozambique, for example. They’ve experienced first-hand what changes our future climate has in store. In fact, they’ve been living under those circumstance since the 1980s. And even when droughts and floods hit the village harder than before, they persisted. They formed farming associations, and began planting drought-resistant species of corn, rice, and cassava. These farming associations are particularly popular amongst women, and many women are now taking the lead and becoming farmers themselves.
That’s just one example of how women (particularly those within developing countries) are affected by climate change. Because poverty is such an issue in these countries, when successful harvests are few and far between, children, especially growing girls, will be drastically impacted. This study shows that females are usually the first to reduce how much they eat, and are more likely to sacrifice their own dietary needs for others.
Our heath and safety is now jeopardized as well. Women and girls are almost always responsible for collecting firewood and water, both resources that are dwindling because of climate change. Fires and droughts have completely erased before flourishing areas, meaning these women must travel farther to gather what they need (and in some places, clean water is impossible to find, now matter how far you go). This is not only putting them in danger, but it’s taking time away from them that they could be using to do other things, such as earning money, or simply resting.
Another study found that in countries where women don’t have the same societal and economic status as men, they’re more likely to die in the aftermath of disasters. This is mostly due to cultural norms that prohibit women from visiting relief centers alone. They’re severely lacking the protection, education, and the resources they need to better themselves and their family’s lives. Our reluctance to acknowledge the current state of our world is killing people, and we aren’t making the changes to stop it.
I know what you’re thinking: How are we supposed to help these people? And why should we?
The answer is quite simple: Because it’s effecting us, too.
Water quality is a reoccurring issue for the United States. Due to rising sea-levels, flooding, and an increase in inundations, shoreline erosion is a concern. This will, and has had, an immensely negative impact on those living in coastal areas and environments.
Popularity in disease and illness will increase as well. With our warming, more humid climate comes insects and parasites. For mosquitos, and other disease carrying bugs, this is the perfect environment. Water born disease is another issue, since it can be so easily carried and transmitted amongst people.
What I’ve listed is already devastating enough, but what about the “direct” affects of climate change? Although warming temperatures lengthen growing seasons, these temperatures have exceeded warm, and are now scorching. And that, along with droughts, has completely destroyed soil quality in some areas. In some places, chronic drought and heat have left fields scorched. Extensive studies have found that forest fires have been occurring nearly five times more often since the 1970s and 80s. And they’ve been hitting us harder, too. On average, they’re burning over six times as much land area, and are now lasting almost five times longer. America is on fire, and not in a good way.
Poverty is a worldwide issue, and so are social and economic inequalities. These problems aren’t just limited to one culture, one social structure, or one gender. It hurts women, and it hurts men. It hurts people, regardless. But we must learn to take into account how these instances of othering, and blatant disbelief in facts (yes, facts) are effecting out society. We have to be able to recognize how our differences can cause inequality, whether it’s intentional or not.
Women are our future. In fact, we’re the only reason there’s a future at all. If you won’t protect our planet, and you won’t protect us, than who are you saving?